Posted by: Jon Fine on April 23, 2009
Yes, this actually happened: In 1984 Paper Mate found an unknown poodle-rock band called Autograph, gave ’em some bucks, and got their product a starring role in said band’s debut video. Paper Mate even teamed up their pens with the band in some promotional posters too.
In case you’re wondering: no, that guitar tone didn’t sound any better back in 1984, either. The problem was lots of people thought it did.
(Hey, it was 1984. Erasable ink was a big deal then!)
I am sitting here trying to remember if I was aware that this was indeed product placement 1.0 when I saw it on MTV in the mid-Eighties. (Did they even call it “product placement” back then?)But I can't. I was in high school and involved in recreational pursuits that left me goggle-eyed and vacantly-staring a good chunk of the time. Although, I gotta say, this video left me goggle-eyed without the aid of . . . additional goggle-inducements. “Things go better with rock”? C’mon, guys, can you do better than steal a key lyric from a Coke ad?
I was going to make fun of this in a brutal fashion, for all the obvious reasons—how ‘bout that dude gliding across the stage whilst flashing a transistor radio! how ‘bout an era in which “heavy metal” and “hard rock” encompassed bands with as much tooth as a pop-tart?—and cite this as a classic example of a Failed Product Placement. But this video got a decent amount of airplay on MTV, and Autograph’s debut album ended up going gold. Says a Los Angeles Times piece from April 1985 that I dredged out of a database (meaning no link is available):
[Autograph's] album came out last October. A month later, the video for "Turn Up the Radio" was released. At first, album sales were slow-80,000 copies in the first three months. But eventually the video influenced sales, as did a January-March tour this year, and 500,000 more copies were sold.
Thanks to a shrewd advertising tie-in, the Paper Mate pen company supplied funding for the video, along with some other financial support.
"Because of our name and the album title, `Sign In Please,' our manager (Susie Frank) thought we might get a pen-and-pencil company as a sponsor," Plunkett explained. "Paper Mate agreed to give us money if we advertised their pen. We were able to make a much more expensive video than the average new band."
Does the band have any reservations about being linked to a product?
"Not really," he replied. "We needed the money. You do anything you can to get money when you're starting out; it's so expensive to get a band off the ground. [Picky editors’ note: No. It isn’t.] With the name Autograph, it's logical for us to be advertising a pen. It would only be weird and out of place if we were advertising something like a vacuum cleaner or a roach spray."
Here’s what I want to know: Does anyone remember any earlier dances between brands and bands? I’m not talking about bands merely doing ads—long ago everyone from the Rolling Stones to Jefferson Airplane did that. (Note: If you click on any link in this post, you absolutely must click on that Jefferson Airplane link and hear a snippet of them hymning the praises of white Levis while they, apparently, were pretty whited-out on something themselves.) I mean did any non-music brand—vacuum cleaners, roach spray sponsor bands, and have products show up in their videos?
Or was Paper Mate’s long-forgotten deal with Autograph the first of its kind?